Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reading Notes on Rogo’s Minds and Motion

This post is reviewing an older book about psychokinesis (PK). In spite of being written in the 1970s, much of its content remains relevant today. Rogo’s book covers mostly macro-level PK effects such as poltergeists, “thoughtography”, the Soviet experiments, the so-called Geller effect, healing, and group PK. This book constitutes a good primer for anyone interested in PK. It should be followed by reading Pamela Heath’s The PK Zone for having an updated perspective on PK. The full notice is:

Rogo, Scott.(1978). Minds and Motion: The riddle of psychokinesis. New York: Taplinger publishing.

PK as an act of creation?

It is interesting to note that Rogo came to conclusions similar to the ones of François Favre, already presented in a previous post. Favre considers that psi effects are fundamentally human acts of creation. Something new has been created, and this can be interpreted as a new information arrangement, a new node of knowledge. ESP, in this sense, is information about a person or an event (past, present, or future) that now is part of a new node (the percipient who now knows about it). As discussed previously, PK can be construed as information as well, by changing the physical information about matter (speed, size, temperature, biological functionality, etc). In this case too, a new node of information is created. For instance, the watch of a witness to an accident is stopped at the time of the accident; this is new information arrangement.

As Rogo wrote in his book, “Psychokinesis might just be the most versatile and powerful force in nature. Its range seems limitless. Just look at the effects it can produce. It can influence the fall of rolling dice and levitate tables. It can interfere with that decay rate of the piece of radioactive material and, apparently, decomposed of physical matter and then reassemble it. It can heal biological tissue yet cause burns on the skin as well. It can start fires, but grant immunity from the flames at the same time. It can knock on wood or tear it apart. It can bend metal or cause rocks to fall from the sky. It can work invisibly or appear as a mist. It can function like a lever or take on the properties of a field. It can manifest as an energy yet appear as a biological plasma. I know of no other force in nature which has so many faces, guises, or manifestations. In the universe, the only comparable phenomenon with this versatility is a man's own imagination. Perhaps this is the reason we think of PK as a mental force. It seems guided by our thoughts and even our un-verbalized desires. PK might be capable of carrying out any task we want or think it can perform. It may not necessarily be only the physical force of our will but the physical manifestation of our very imagination as well.” (p. 216)

The view of PK as an act of creation, or as a physical manifestation of our imagination, also means that PK could be considered as an idiosyncrasy. After all, if it is a physical manifestation of human creativity it is therefore part of the human realm, and the psychological, sociological, and cultural contexts leading to such a creation are key to understand the content of such manifestation. In other words, these creations are not occurring in a void; they are not pure physical effects. They are dependent on our mental constructs, i.e., the culture, historical period and society in which we are living. This view of psi, and PK in particular, is certainly congruent with a number of observations about UFOs. People see machines in the sky when it becomes possible to imagine them (i.e., airships in the late 19th century, ghost planes and ghost rockets up to the middle of the 20th century, and spacecraft just before the beginning of the space age). Similarly, apparitions of the Virgin Mary tend to occur in Roman Catholic communities; the Chuppacabra in Spanish-speaking communities. The notion of prior plausibility structure, already discussed in previous posts, should be an integral part of any study of PK.

The next logical question emerging, then, would be: how imaginable something needs to be to be imagined? Some might argue, like Carl Jung in his book Flying Saucers, that PK effects are an individual affair and can only occur in the immediate vicinity of a medium. Yet, based on our knowledge of PK, Jung`s assumption is simple wrong. If one takes the time to look at the extent of PK research, from the late 19th century to the present, one would conclude that such limitations are artificial, and are in fact only showing a limitation in Jung’s own imagination. Like Rogo wrote in answering the question “what is the range of PK? I am afraid that this question will have to remain unanswered. So far we have found no parameters or substances which can consistently inhibit its power. Nor have we found any object to small or too large to extend its influence.”(p. 233).

In view of what is known about PK presently, I think it is quite safe to say that there are no theoretical limits to PK, and the notion that UFOs are PK effects cannot be rejected on the simple basis that they are too big an object to be the outcome of PK effects. However, size may still matter.

Social dimension of PK

The most interesting chapter in Rogo’s book, from a parasociological standpoint, is the one about group PK. Rogo describes at length two classical researches involving the use of a group to produce PK: the Philip experiment[1] and the group sitter experiments conducted by Batcheldor in 1960s and 1970s[2]. These experiments are interesting in themselves, however, they also reveal a few things about the nature of collective psi. As Rogo noted, “There is another psychological factor which comes into play during group PK practices which I felt Batcheldor fails to appreciate. As Maxwell and other have argued, group-PK effects are often directed by a collective mind created by the sitters. By joining forces, several people may actually form some sort of semiautonomous will or mind which directs the PK. Now this “entity” is not “owned” by or dependent upon any single group member. It is, on the contrary, semi-independent of all of them. A PK group, therefore, can overcome ownership inhibition because the PK is really being architectured by an ego-alien personality”. (pp. 195-196)

In other words, what Rogo was saying here is that the act of creation is the one of several people, and therefore from an individual perspective, there are elements or portions of the creation that will be foreign to each specific individual. Hence, the commonly described feeling of an “alien” presence when these PK effects occur, be it a ghost, a spirit, the Virgin Mary, or aliens from outer space. The key here is to recognize that there are two levels of reality involved: the individual perception and participation in the PK effect, and the collective output. A failure to recognize that the output is actually a collective effort, a composite creation, leads people to believe that there is a non-human entity involved. In a way, group PK is like any other creative group efforts, and this can be nicely illustrated by the famous joke: “Do you know what a camel is? It is a horse drawn by a committee…”.

The content of a psi effect is not only affected by the collective nature of the creative act, but also by the strength, or numinosity, of the effect. Rogo wrote that “Despite these psychological considerations, there are probably paranormal reasons why groups are better able to develop PK than individuals are. There are two psychic factors which I believe come into play here. First, while an individual may not have any appreciable PK himself, a group of people working together might be able to build up a formidable collective PK force as each person contributes his share of psychic force to the group’s total PK output. In fact, we might expect a group of people to produce stronger PK than a randomly selected individual could.” (p. 197)

It is an extremely common phenomenon in pretty much all aspects of reality, be it physical, biological, sociological or psychological: the more energy one puts in a system, the bigger the effect is likely to be. Why should it be different for psi? Based on our existing knowledge of psi, there are no theoretical reasons to have an exception for psi in this regard. What Rogo did not discuss, however, is what happens if the collective is a large one, a social group, a large segment of a community? The logical extension would be a larger social psi effect, and one that is appearing as even more strange to any given individual, as his or her share of participation in the effect is even smaller in relative terms.

Another point that Rogo brings is that in collective psi effect, a division of labor creates synergistic outputs that are stronger. This notion is, after all, the central principle upon which modern organizations, and modern capitalism, are built on: a given number of organized individuals have more output than the same sum of disorganized individuals. It is what the military describe under the notion of “force multiplication”. As Rogo noted, “Now let’s turn to a second factor which I think contributes to the success of group-PK techniques. […] It could be that PK works best when a group of people are present who can contribute the PK while another person (or persons) is on hand who is able to manipulate it. It might be considerably harder for one single individual to contribute, generate, and channel PK all by himself. In a group setting, a division of these factors may take place. (p 197).

This comment from Rogo brings the issue of experiment-based psi effect versus spontaneous ones. In parapsychology, there is a relatively accepted notion that psi effects produced through experimentation tend to be weaker than spontaneous ones. The reason invoked is that psi, being produced through unconscious mental processes, is maximized when the unconscious is allowed to be in its normal and “natural” environment. During an experiment, people are aware that they are there to “produce”, and this creates unconscious inhibitions. That is problem is described more generally by psychologists as the “third variable” issue. Yet, group PK experiments tend to show much stronger results than individual PK ones. One can only imagine the strength of a social and spontaneous psi effect.

The experimentation problem

Rogo made an important comment that needs to be analyzed further. He wrote that “Group-PK phenomena just may be the most important aspect of psychic phenomena we can explore.” (p. 197). If it is so (and I agree with his statement), then why parapsychologists do not do more of such group PK experimental research? I think there are two reasons for that. The first one is that most people involved in parapsychology are not interested or trained to look beyond the individual. This is the individualistic reporting bias of parapsychology already discussed in a previous post. The second reason is that group PK research, in concrete terms, looks a lot like the séance of the psychical research era. Parapsychology was created by J.B. Rhine with the very intent of staying away from the séance business, as it was perceived as bringing much disrespect to serious research. This state of affair is unfortunate, as group PK research could help informing parasociology.

This difficulty is compounded by the fact that experimentation at the social level experimentation is highly problematic. One could imagine an experiment that would go as follow: find a mid-size community that is somewhat geographically isolated, and somewhat economically depressed (like a mining community in North America). Get a secret arrangement with the local cable and a TV network to insert subliminal images of UFOs (one frame out of the 25 per second) during the most watch shows for several weeks. The image should show UFOs having a liberating and positive effect so they constitute an unconscious “escape” from the economically depressed community. Also ensure that there is an airport nearby with a radar station, and ideally that the town has a UFO club. If there is an increase in quality UFO sighting reports and ideally some inexplicable radar tracings in the following weeks, then the hypothesis could be verified.

Obviously, such experiment would not pass any research ethics committee as it involves deception and there is nothing good for the community involved. As well, no cable and TV network companies would take such risk for their reputation. But it is possible to say that the UFO parasociological hypothesis is falsifiable. But better experiments will have to be found.

[1] For more see Owen, Iris M. and M. Sparrow. (1976). Conjuring up Philip: An Adventure In Psychokinesis. Harper & Row.

[2] For more see Batcheldor, Kenneth. (1966). "Report on a Case of Table-Levitation and Associated Phenomena." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 43; (1984). "Contributions to the Theory of PK Induction from Sitter-Group Work." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 78; (1994). "Notes on the Elusiveness Problem in Relation to a Radical View of Paranormality." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 88; Batcheldor, Kenneth, and D. W. Hunt. "Some Experiments in Psychokinesis." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 43 (1966).

Eric Ouellet © 2010

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